The family that paints together.

I know I’m behind on my photo project (I took the pics, I just haven’t posted them) and that I’ve got a bunch of other things piled up as well. It’s just that I’ve recently discovered that the less time I spend on the computer, the happier and more productive I am in the home. But I just had to put up something about tonight’s fun project: the family abstract painting.

I’ve had this canvas in the kitchen for ages with a pretty tablecloth wrapped around it. But the other day I decided that our living room needed some Real Art instead of the wall stickers. So I took them down, unwrapped the canvas, and spent a few minutes painting with a big brush.

Then, after dinner, I gave the brush to Camilla.

And then Josh took a turn.

And Bea got to watch (sorry, babe — maybe in two more years).

And then there were some more turns.

And then it looked like this.

Our family painting.

Not exactly Met material, but it’s only destined for our living room. And it makes me happy whenever I look at it and remember painting it together.

Plus, if we get tired of it in a few months we can just work on it again. I have this vision of still owning this canvas in 20 years and seeing the surface with half an inch of paint, built up one happy evening at a time.

My painter.

I let Camilla paint for the very first time last week as part of our now-daily Craft Time.

Painting for the first time.

I had been looking forward to this day for a while and it did not disappoint. She loved it.


I looked around the internet for a little while, trying to find tips for painting with toddlers. But in the end, I just went with my gut and what I had on hand: a nice sturdy brush, some real watercolor paper, and three colors of nice gouache that I mixed with water. (Purple is her favorite, so of course there had to be purple.)

I thought the single color cups would be less distracting to work with than a whole palette of colors, although I did buy one of the classic Crayola watercolor palettes on Saturday and we have used it as well.

The thing that made me so happy about her first paining is that she very naturally started using the brush to make good lines. Now, I thought for a few minutes about being a touch-feely-exploratory art mom but rejected the idea pretty quickly because I don’t want Camilla wrecking the nice tools that I’m letting her use. I don’t mind if she does some finger dipping or paint pouring at the end of the session, but I think I’m doing her a disservice if I don’t teach her as much painting technique as she can handle at this age. For her, that pretty much means (a) only painting on the paper, (b) not scrubbing the brush around and wrecking the bristles, (c) not splashing water everywhere with the cups, and (d) trying not to dip the brush in every single color when using the paint palette. If she can do those things, I am perfectly willing to buy her decent paper and let her use some nice brushes. (If you are letting your child paint for the first time, please please don’t use those horrid floppy little brushes that come with a paint set. Buy a nice fat brush with bristles that come to a good point and which actually holds some paint. I don’t know why kids are supposed to be able to learn to use watercolor with those terrible brushes.)

So far, scrubbing the paper with the brush (which I refer to as “scribbling”) has been the biggest temptation. But she didn’t discover that until her second painting.

For the first one, there was enough fun to be had just dipping the brush into the different colors.

She had this pleased / intensely concentrated look on her face the whole time.

At the very end, I light her pour all the colors into one cup to see what happened. I don’t think she cared much about the color change, but she is obsessed with pouring things right now. Her favorite game of all time is to stand at the kitchen sink with a collection of cups and a trickle of water and some watered down soap. It is referred to as “hands” (because it usually happens after we wash her hands) and she requests it about twenty times a day. Anything involving paint in cups inevitably gets poured into one container, so the paint palette is a nice alternative.

First painting.

I know I’m the proud mom, but really…isn’t this a very nice first painting? I think it has a very pleasant abstract quality. I gave very little direction, other than asking her to try the green instead of the purple and giving her a new sheet of paper when I thought this was done enough. (Remember: less is more when it comes to children’s paintings!)

Second painting.

This is the second painting. It’s a little lighter because she decided to start dipping the brush in the paint and then the water. Also, you can see exactly when she discovered how fun scribbling is. To counteract that, I now specifically suggest that she make either lines or dots, the two kinds of brush strokes in her repertoire.

We’re painting again today, and I hope to get to the store this week to stock the little bit of space I’ve carved out of a kitchen cupboard for Craft Time. I want playdough, a big set of crayons, some tempera paint, and a lot more paper (I just noticed that Joann’s sells long rolls — that might be nice). Eventually we’ll probably try to make playdough and all that, but given that we’re working around an 8 week old baby and her uncertain nap schedule I’m cutting myself some slack.

More masterpieces to come.

A portrait of Juniper.

Every once in a while I get asked to do a pet portrait. I always feel like it’s a win-win situation: I get to do a painting (and get paid), and someone else gets a memorial to their beloved pet.


This is Juniper. He passed away recently, and a kind friend of the family commissioned this piece.

As a life-long pet lover and former dog owner, I have to say that this seemed like a really lovely gesture to me.

Farewell, Juniper.

Modern fairytales.

I am spending my days sewing like a maniac whenever the baby permits, but of course I can’t show you any of that stuff until after Christmas. Humph. I’m a little short on sleep (okay, a lot short) but everything is turning out pretty well and I have ripped out remarkably few seams. For me, seam ripping is one of the least productive-feeling activities imaginable. So as long as I’m sewing seams that get to stay sewn, I feel like I’m making progress.

However, I remembered today that I do have some new art that I haven’t shown on my blog yet so I’m not without eye candy. I made these three pieces in November for a show at The Storm Cellar in Moscow, ID (show date TBA). I have been wanting to do some collage really badly and this was my first attempt that wasn’t part of an elementary classroom project.

It was kind of a huge pain since I had to decide on my concept, make the drawings, decide how to group the pieces, make a color scheme, paint a bunch of pieces of paper, transfer the drawings, cut them out, and then assemble the final pieces. Plus, a couple of these pieces + backgrounds were painted multiple times since I didn’t like the first version. It’s a ridiculous amount of work for something that comes out looking relatively simple, but I think I’m okay with that. I even have plans for a couple more…

Hansel and Gretel.

Hansel and Gretel



Snow White Rose Red.

Snow White, Rose Red

I believe that prints will eventually be available on the The Storm Cellar’s website and the originals will also be for sale at the store. The colors are a little off on my monitor…they look better in print and in real life!

[I should also mention that the characters are based on photos from The Sartorialist, which we bought as soon as it came out. If you have a copy, can you spot the originals? ;) I got the idea for the set when I was flipping through the book a few months ago and some of the figures seemed as though they lived their own fairytale lives in NYC or Paris or wherever. My copy is full of sticky notes marking different photos as Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming, Little Red Riding Hood, and a cast of other characters just waiting to be collaged.]

Now all I need is the matching baby.

Well, my due date was Wednesday and still no baby. I know that this is very common (especially for first-time moms) and am not too surprised, but it really would have been very nice if she had come as scheduled, especially since it was Josh’s birthday and all he really wanted was a baby. In an unexpected turn of events, however, I found out that my midwife is out of town until Sunday night and I’ve never met the backup doctor, so I am really hoping that I don’t go into labor until Monday. Monday would be nice, though. After a relaxing weekend and before my mom comes. Hear that, baby? Please come Monday.

Until then, we are trying to enjoy as many low-key, non-contraction-producing activities as possible. Out with the long walks, in with relaxing laps around a (borrowed) pool. It has been ridiculously hot here in northern FL, so anything that doesn’t involve a/c or large bodies of water is officially a Bad Idea. I think we’re going to go spend some time at the movies this afternoon…doesn’t that sound lovely? Comfy seat + dark air-conditioned room + distraction = the ideal way to pass the time. I don’t even feel guilty spending the money since who knows when we’re going to go to the movies again.

As you might have guessed, my nesting urges — which have never been as strong as I’ve heard other women describe — seem to be running low at the moment. I’m supposed to want to scrub the bathroom sink with a toothbrush instead of relaxing, right? I did manage to get some more work done in the nursery before the lethargy hit, however. These are a few photos of its current state, which is still not quite final.

Still haven't finished the curtain, unfortunately.

It’s a little hard to see, but I labeled each of the dresser drawers using pretty Martha Stewart labels (and an ugly black sharpie…didn’t think that through!) since I figured that husband’s chances of successfully changing and dressing the baby are much higher if he doesn’t have to pull out all nine drawers in the process. I was all ready to start on the curtain the other day when I realized that we somehow lost the curtain rod mounting gear during our last move so I need to get a new one. Sigh. Hopefully I will pick up a new rod and finish the project today or tomorrow since the “hole in the wall” look is a little annoying.

New painting.

This is the painting that I’ve been trying so hard to finish before baby comes. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually the culmination of a four month saga and about 10 coats of paint. It all started when husband read (and loved) The Little Prince and began a fantastically complicated drawing for the baby on a whiteboard in his classroom. It was full of stars and asteroids and special symbols that he developed through discussions with his omnibus students and which they then started drawing on all their papers. When I was thinking about art for the baby’s room, the first idea that came to mind was to take his whiteboard drawing and turn it into a big painting. I worked on some sketches for a while and then drew my final composition on the canvas and painted the background (you can see it in this photo). I didn’t get any farther before we moved, however, so the canvas then sat in the baby’s room until two weeks ago when I decided that I ought to at least try and finish since who knows when I’m going to have the time to paint again. By this time, however, I had changed my mind about the project and wanted to do a collage. Initially I wanted to paint the collage paper myself (I even managed to finish 4 or 5 pieces) but ran out of steam and decided to use National Geographic photographs instead. So I primed over my old painting, applied three coats of blue (the first was the wrong color), bought a bunch of old NGs, and spent a few days happily clipping and cutting and pasting my pieces together. And then I arranged them on the canvas.

And I hated it.

It took a little while for me to explain to husband how it was wrong, and in the end all I can say is that it was just too busy. I don’t go in for a lot of popular baby decor, but I do like the idea that a baby’s room is restful and calming. Simple. Which was not at all what the collage looked like. So I scrapped the idea and decided that I should do a painting after all. I primed over my dark blue background, applied two coats of light blue, and started on an acrylic painting.

Four hours later, I hated it too.

At this point I had put a lot of hours (and tears) into the project and was wondering whether I should keep trying on principle or just give up. I decided to give it one more shot using the same contact paper stenciling technique that I used on the bird wall (remember that?), since I was still pretty happy with the way it looked. So I applied yet another coat of primer, took out my scissors and contact paper, and started cutting again. And this is the way it turned out. 

The Little Prince.

The scene is the one where the Prince leaves his asteroid by harnessing a flock of birds that “happen to be flying by.” I really love the imagery and thought it fit well with the rest of the bird-ish nursery, so I added some of husband’s special asteroids and called it good. Not quite what I originally had in mind, but at least I managed to FINISH. Hah!

Bookshelf and framed Julia Rothman wallpaper scrap.

As I was working on the painting I remembered that I had ordered some Julia Rothman wallpaper samples from Hygge and West a while back and checked to see if any of them fit my color scheme. The piece above the bookshelf had the perfect combination of green, blue, and white and happened to be just the right size for a frame I already had, so it went on the wall. I think I may paint the frame blue eventually, but it’s okay for now. Hygge and West has just started selling wallpaper by the yard, so I think I’m going to get a yard of the same stuff and use it to cover a new shade for the lamp on the changing table. The brown is just too strong and I haven’t found a replacement I like — a wallpaper’d lampshade should be pretty easy, right?  

The ottoman is also new, a happy Goodwill find. The color’s not perfect but the price was right and I am pretty positive that I am going to want to put my feet up during all those late night nursing sessions. Since the painting ended up being light blue instead of navy that stripey rug really stands out to me now…I’m not sure if it’s going to stay in this room, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. I did order a mobile to go over the crib (this one — the seller is totally sweet and agreed to a partial trade for some prints from my shop) that has dark blue in it and might balance it out.

Of course, all of this obsessing about the baby’s room is a tad ironic since she’ll be sleeping in a bassinet in our room for a while. But it’s so hard to NOT decorate her space, even when I know that it won’t really matter at first. It makes me so happy to peek through the doorway and see her bed and her chair and her painting.

Come soon, little baby…the only thing missing is you!

The waiting game.

Babybird continues to refuse to come outside and play, so life in the Gibbs household has settled into a holding pattern. Husband is officially on vacation now, too, so we had a very peaceful and enjoyable Library Day yesterday. Between the local university library and the downtown public library, we have a pretty decent array of (free!) summer reading options to choose from. I made a rare new book purchase at Barnes & Noble last week and came home with A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. Lots of fun stories + some yummy-looking recipes = motivation to read more books about food. My desire to cook experiences severe ups and downs and I have to say that it hasn’t been very high ever since I got pregnant, but I am hoping that things will change in the months to come. (You know, once there’s a baby around who will make cooking 10x more complicated than it was before.) Rather than loading up on cookbooks, though, I decided to try a thinker’s approach and picked up copies of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Second Nature, Fast Food Nation, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. At the very least, I hope to find my lost motivation to start a potted garden on our back patio. Anyone have other suggestions for good reading along those lines?

I can only sit on the couch for so long before my back starts killing me, however, so I’m trying to fit in a few other activities as well. I finished that wedding photo album (is it just me, or is this a pretty common first-baby activity?), I’ve clipped a ton of photos from old National Geographics for my new collage obsession, I baked scones, I cleaned the apartment, I did laundry, I packaged a final Etsy order, I finally got my new Adobe CS4 running on the computer (hooray!!!). I even finished a pastel portrait commission that someone asked me to do almost two months ago:

Pastel portrait.

I’m going to get some supplies today for a collage I want to finish in the baby’s room…I kind of hope that she’ll come before I’m done, but I might as well be productive while I can.

That pregnant silhouette.

Here’s to hoping that this silhouette is enjoying its very last days (or hours)!

A portrait.

A very nice lady who’d bought something previously from me on Etsy asked if I would do a portrait of her beloved cat. This kind of request makes me very happy because I know in advance that the piece of art will be meaningful to someone and have a specific use (vs. trying to convince a potential buyer that my art would be just perfect in their living room).

Commissioned cat portrait in ink and gouache.

So this is Taylor, in ink + gouache.

I am also working on a big big big canvas (think 2 ft x 4 ft) but I’ve only just started the painting part. It will be for our bedroom and is based on an idea of husband’s. I told him one day that I wanted to take down the Marimekko fabric over the bed and paint something kind of abstract and oh, did he happen to have any ideas? He stared at me for a moment and then got a piece of paper and then drew a very detailed sketch of a little scene that he evidently drew every day a few years ago while working at a telephone research company. I am now turning that scene into an acrylic painting and am very hopeful about the results, assuming I don’t mess it up because it’s been so long since I’ve worked in acrylic. Big art really appeals to me right now for some reason. I have two other large canvases in the apartment that currently hold stretched fabric, but if I get good ideas I’d like to turn them both into paintings as well.

Since I’m channelling my spare time into class prep and painting I haven’t sewn any cute little things for the baby yet. I think I need some patterns since none of the baby clothes in Amy Butler’s Little Stitches were exactly what I want: I’m thinking very simple smocks or skirts to go over onesies in the 0-3 mo size and then some simple gathered waist dresses in the 3-6 and 6-9 mo sizes. I’m not really inclined to go all-out on complicated infant clothes right now since I think I’ll probably be swaddling the baby or carrying her in a sling a lot and why make a really cute outfit if no one’s going to see it? I did give in to my urge to knit the other day and started either a skirt or jumper in a very fine vintage acrylic yarn that mom got me a few years back. I admit that I plunged right in without checking my gauge, however, so I have no idea what size it’s going to be…oh well. When you gotta knit, you gotta knit.

I will try to take a new pregnant photo soon for you far-away friends–I feel as though my belly really popped out last week! It was holding pretty steady for a few weeks and I was feeling pleased with my not-too-bad weight gain and then all of the sudden it was as though I added two inches to my waistline. I can also (finally) feel the baby kicking from time to time, which was a big relief. I’m sure I’ll feel differently in three months, but I kept begging her to kick me hard so it wasn’t ambiguous and she finally did. Now I can feel little staccato taps when I wake up in the middle of the night, which I’ve been doing a lot lately. I also dream lots of strange dreams, so going to bed is like reading a book of short stories each night: lately I’ve had between 3 and 6 distinct dreams per night, depending on how many times I wake up. I’m sure it’s providing deep insight into my psyche, but sometimes I’d prefer lovely black nothingness to a night of running around in bizarre situations. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

At least I’ve been drawing.

This was supposed to be Film, Part 2 so I could show you the photos I took on our trip to FL. But then I hit a hitch: Ritz Cameras mangled my 2nd roll. Yup, you heard that right…the first 10 or 12 are okay, and then they get progressively grainier and grainier before screeching to a halt somewhere in Texas (a quick look at the negatives reveals that this is because all of the photos after that are completely black). And I never really liked the way the ‘good’ ones turned out either because the grain is all weird. So anyhow, I’m spreading the word: don’t trust Ritz with your film! Especially not film from a can’t-afford-to-repeat-it experience. Because you will feel very, very angry at the poor guy at the counter, even though it’s not his fault that some moron at the Development Lab cannot even load a machine properly.

But hey, at least they don’t charge you and will ruin your stuff for free.

End rant.

(I will scan the better photos, but only after I can look at the ruined ones with forgiveness in my heart.)

My backup plan was to post pics I took last week of our mostly-finished living room, but then I got the urge to rearrange everything on the wall so it doesn’t really look like the photos anymore. Sigh. I really need to just find an art arrangement I like and then stick with it. I have spackled a lot of nail holes this week.

Fortunately I also have a backup-backup plan: I just finished a double portrait yesterday and remembered to take a photo while the sun was shining. This piece was commissioned by a very lovely lady who asked me to do a pastel portrait of her daughter a few years ago. Aren’t her kids gorgeous??


This was the photo she sent me. The setting is nice and the composition (when cropped) isn’t bad at all, but the flash has completely whited out their faces. In case you are ever taking a photo to use for a portrait, please don’t use a flash! Shining a light at the front of a person’s face eliminates all of the side shadows that tell an artist what the person’s bone structure is like. When this information is gone, he/she has to make it up or just make do.

Pastel portrait.

This is the final piece. The style is not my favorite, but it was really, really fun to play with the pastels. To be honest, I procrastinated a bit on this because I haven’t used pastels in ages and wasn’t dying to get back into the medium. But as soon as I sat down in front of the paper and drew the first line, it became the most enjoyable experience — they slide along so nicely, and you can mix SO many colors together.

Portrait detail.

Another great thing about pastel is how vibrant the light pigments are, especially on dark paper. The yellows especially can be so, so bright (these photos seem to be a bit dark, unfortunately).

Portrait detail.

Anyhow, I have kept my pastels out because I want to finish another 4-6 small pieces in the next two weeks. Pensacola has something called Gallery Night on October 3 (sort of like the Moscow Artwalk, only there’s a trolley going to a bunch of stops since it’s not all within walking distance). Thanks to Lauren, I was introduced to the owner of a small children’s boutique called Ty & KC and KC asked if I’d be the featured artist at her shop. I’m going to take all of my Etsy prints and try to have a few new originals and the painting from the Ren Fair poster. My big problem now is figuring out how the heck to afford to get all of this framed. [Well, that and how to get people to a) come to the shop and b) buy my stuff. Ty & KC is only a couple of months old, so I am crossing my fingers that the trolley will bring some new folks to the store.] If you think that an artist is making a lot of money off of art that you buy in a store or gallery, think again. The breakdown on the sale of a $300 framed painting will be something like: $150 to the gallery, $30-$100 for framing (depending on whether the piece has a custom or a regular frame, paid for up front by the artist), $20 for supplies (paid for by artist), up to but probably less than $100 in profit for the artist. And if the piece took longer than 10 hours to paint, he/she is not making a particularly good wage and had to shell out a lot of cash up front for something that may sell now or in November.

So that’s the economics of art, people. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Gocco goodies.

These are other bits of goodness for the new shop…three new gocco prints!

 The Water Jar.

The Perfect Chair.

Tall Brown Boots.

They are from a series I’m calling “From the Sketchbook” that involves me choosing some ink doodles, enlarging them, and adding a dotted background. I do like dots. (And I obviously like series as well.)

The first round invovles the chair, the water jar, and the boots, but I plan to add others and print these in some different color combinations. But be warned: I’m doing relatively small sets (18-20), and once a color combo sells out I won’t reprint it. There has to be something special about the one you get, right?

I still have to put together a 150 page booklet before I can go home today (and I’ve got, like, 10 pages done so far), so I’m signing off. Thank you for all your input so far and for the new shop love — I am so happy that it’s finally up and running!

New shop + giveaway!

So perhaps I should have considered the fact that an insanely busy/stressful week at work is not the best time to open a new shop. Hindsight is always so good, no?

But I persevered, and here it is! I’m waiting to add the gocco prints until tomorrow, but all the new giclee prints are up. Lots of originals are also waiting in the wings and be added in future weeks.

About the giclees…I know that they are a bit more expensive than you might be used to, but the quality is really very, very nice. (Much nicer than you’ll get from someone printing them out at home, unless that person has a massive and expensive professional-grade printer.) I really don’t like to pay for a “print” that obviously came from someone’s Staples-variety HP printer. So, I paid a bit more for something that I think it good quality, and I’m asking my customers to pay a bit more as well. I think you’ll be more satisfied in the long run.

Now, about that giveaway. I only have one of each print on hand right now and want to order more, but before I do so I need some feedback as to which ones are most popular. So, if you will leave me a note by June 18 saying what your TWO favorite prints are, I’ll put your name in the hat to win a sample set of my three new gocco prints. I was going to put up a photo but it didn’t turn out very well, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what they look like. But trust me — they’re really cute!

Lion and Lamb

Wolf and Deer.

Sealion and Penguin.


The Pretty Rock.